Ms. Sarkin Goes to Sacramento

Cal-in-Sac fellows Jennifer Lang and Courtney Sarkin celebrating Sac Pride.

As I drove on the highway to Sacramento in my 22-year-old Toyota 4Runner to begin my first week in Senator Carol Liu’s office, I saw the dome of the Capitol building peeking through the skyscrapers through my dirty window. Butterflies flew around in my stomach. The heat was sweltering, but I unpacked my boxes at the loft, my home for the next two months. My journey, from starting to attend UC Berkeley in 2012 to interning in the Capitol in 2016, has been a rollercoaster with all of the ups, down, twists, and turns. Much like my Berkeley experience, since arriving in Sacramento, I’ve been continually inspired to work for change. On my first day at the Capitol, one of the legislative aides in our office showed me the bill room, the Senate and Assembly floors, and the Legislative Counsel office. I felt pretty overwhelmed with all the staff members dashing around the halls, heels clacking and papers shuffling around. I traveled down to the Senate floor as often as I could that first week. I was completely in awe (and still am, to be honest), watching the senators speak so passionately about their legislation. I always bring the Daily File, so I can follow along, but I mostly enjoy spending my time observing the senators lobbying each other to support a bill or laughing together (or maybe they’re planning dinner). Within the first two weeks, I had submitted a Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) to Leg Counsel, which I was lucky enough to introduce on the Senate Floor the next week, created a fact sheet for my SCR, updated all of the committee membership vote sheets, completed summaries and vote recommendations for bills to be heard in the Human Services and Insurance committees the following week, hosted a couple of meetings with lobbyists, and co-staffed SB 1014, an amazing bill by Senator Liu regarding parental leave for pregnant and parenting students in school. As of now I am planning a roundtable to be hosted by our office in mid-July. When I think about my time here so far, I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned. Like most of the knowledge I absorbed in college, the legislative process and what really happens inside the senators’ offices is best learned through experiencing the rush of it all. Plus, passing by and saying hello to senators and assemblymembers who have inspired me is definitely a wonderful bonus.

Two thoughts stick out prominently in my mind from my first two weeks: 1) the mocha from Chicory is AMAZING, and you should treat yourself to one once a week, if time and money permit. 2) When you’re a member of the legislature, you can’t fall in love with your bill. My Leg Director shared this practical advice after I explained my frustration with bills not reaching far enough to generate sufficient change. Consideration of all perspectives is definitely important, yet in our current political climate, even compromises are sometimes few and far between. So, you proceed with a less than perfect bill, but a step in the right direction, nevertheless. As I read through bill after bill, amendment after amendment, I wondered how any of this legislation ever reached the floor without being stained by the tears and coffee drippings of its author. While the legislative process is a trying one, I’m more than up for the challenge. The Capitol building is filled to the dome with passion and determination. Before interning in the Legislature, I had never considered running for office one day. After watching many of the women legislators openly and strongly speak up for themselves and their constituents, I think I’ve changed my mind. Though this fellowship was geared towards learning about our Legislature, I’ve learned so much about myself. I’m stronger and more powerful than I thought. I’m incredibly proud of my passion for social justice and desire to alleviate the inequities that exist in our world. I love that most of the time I’m full of positivity and radiate sunshine. Of course, like everyone else, I have those days where I feel dazed, tired, and a little lost, but I’ve grown to love those messy parts of finding my way into my future. And besides, just because I shouldn’t love my bill doesn’t mean I shouldn’t love myself. Last but not least, I’ve learned just how critical legislative staff are to ensuring legislators are informed. Our analysis and input really do matter to our members and constituents. Without our legislative staff holding California up, I’m sure the state would sink right into the ocean. In fact, the hard work of all of our California employees needs to be more appreciated. It is with many unfortunate sleepless nights, cups of coffee, and missed lunch breaks that our fragile government continues to function. Amidst all of the organized chaos I work through in my fellowship, I wonder how my fellow staff members and other Californians’ health needs are being supported, if at all. My education has taught me to never give up on working for a better tomorrow, one with more caring, compassion, and mental health awareness. My hope is that one day we reach a point where work isn’t for survival but for livelihood. 

To conclude my thoughts, here is one of the memories closest to my heart so far: 

On June 20th, just about a week ago, I was standing in the Senate chambers when the Women’s Legislative Caucus, composed of some of my favorite women senators (Carol Liu, Hannah-Beth Jackson, and Holly Mitchell), read the Stanford survivor’s letter to Brock Turner out loud to the Senate. “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.” I, like many survivors, wish I didn’t relate so much with those words. The moment left me in tears, dripping with sadness and outrage, but also empowered by her defiance and strength in reclaiming her identity. I’m extremely grateful to our senators for that moment of solidarity. In that instant, I was reminded that moments I spend here should not be wasted. The hotly-contested issues debated within these chambers that have such an impact on Californian’s livelihoods certainly deserve every moment of my time. 

Thinking back on the tragic massacre of the LGBTQ community in Orlando almost two weeks ago, it’s hard to find quite the right words to describe the overwhelming feelings I have about the deadliest mass shooting in US history and other instances of violence, hatred, misogyny, homophobia, and racism that have occurred this year. The day after, I read through the names of those who lost their lives, many of whom were part of the queer Latinx community.  I answered phone calls from constituents urging my senator to vote “no” on anti-gun legislation working its way through the Public Safety Committee the next day. I heard and saw Islamophobia circulating in the news. The truth, as sickening as it is, is that much of this violence happens on a daily basis. The world is hurting. I’m left wondering what actions I can take to help my communities. I believe healing occurs when we actively love. In order for me to actively love, it’s important for me to dismantle the interlocked oppressions through big steps, like legislation, resources, and protests; but it’s also the small acts of kindness, acceptance, and unconditional affirmation of our identities and experiences that matter. Protect, support, and love. Show compassion to those around you. Violence is never the answer to the complex problems our society faces. We must act with love always in mind. Radical acts of self and community love are essential for surviving and thriving together.